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Which Compact Full Frame Do We Love More? Leica Q or the Sony RX1?

The last four years have seen some amazing breakthroughs in digital camera technology with all of the manufacturers competing to incorporate better sensors into camera bodies that seem to be getting smaller and smaller.  One of the most interesting approaches to this has been the introduction of full frame sensors into compact cameras.  Two of the most popular of these cameras are the Leica Q and the Sony RXI.

While expensive, they are great choices for street photographers looking for a smaller full frame option.

Similarities

The Leica Qand the Sony RX1 share a number of similarities beginning with the cameras utilizing a full frame CMOS sensor that measures approximately 36mm x 24mm.  Traditionally full frame sensors have been preferred in digital cameras due to their excellent image quality and low light capabilities.  The Leica Q is capable of capturing images at 24 megapixels, while the Sony RX1 has a slight larger resolution at 24.2 megapixels.

Other similarities include the use of a single memory slot that can accept SD, SDHC an SDXC style memory cards.  The RX1 can also accept a number of Sony’s proprietary memory cards as well.  This is somewhat surprising as two memory slots are pretty much standard on cameras at these price points.

Both cameras use all metal cases made of magnesium alloy and in the case of the Leica Q, aluminum as well.  Interestingly neither camera has dust or weatherproof sealing, which is unusual for cameras at these price points.  One of the benefits of the all-metal construction is obviously durability, but all metal cases help the camera “feel” more robust.

It is no surprise that both cameras are capable of shooting excellent quality video in a number of formats including HD with a frame size of 1,920 x 1,080.  Video speed varies from 24 framers per second depending upon the format selected.  In the case of the Leica Q, the video files are saved as MPEG-4 files, while the RX-1 files are saved as AVCHD files.

Both cameras have a rear LCD screen that measures 3.0” and is fixed.  Here the cameras menus are displayed as well as preview of the images captured.  In both cameras the screen is easy to read even in bright sunlight.  In the case of the Leica Q, the screen also has limited touch screen capabilities as well.

Differences

While both premium cameras based on full frame sensors, the cameras share a significant number of differences including lens size, viewfinders, ISO and shutter speed ranges, frame rate, size and weight.  While the Leica Q and Sony RX1 have excellent and well respected lens, the “Q” uses a 23mm Summilux lens that is slightly faster at f/1.7 than the Carl Zeiss 35mm lens found on the RX1, which is f/2.0.  While both use a fixed lens, each camera has a built in crop mode that automatically crops the image in the camera.

One of the major and very obvious differences in the two cameras is the inclusion of an excellent electronic viewfinder in the Leica Q, while the Sony RX1 has neither an optical of electronic viewfinder.  The finder in the Leica Q provides 100% coverage and refreshes quickly with minimal lag, as the camera is moved.  The finder is also bright and turns on automatically when the photographer’s eye comes up to the eyecup. As one would expect, the viewfinder also provides a continuous feed of critical camera settings as well.

Somewhat related to this is the difference in autofocus points in the two cameras.  In the case of the Leica Q, the camera has up to 49 autofocus points in the electronic viewfinder compared to 25 that are displayed on the RX1’s rear LCD screen.  In both cameras, the autofocus system is quick and responsive delivering dead on accuracy when focusing.

The two cameras have different ISO ranges with the Leica Q having a native ISO range of 100-50,000 compared to the RX1’s 100- 24,600.  In the case of both cameras it is possible to shoot and relatively high ISO settings and still get good image quality as a result of the full frame sensors used in both cameras.  That being said, it is critical to manage your expectations when shooting at high ISO settings.  Do not expect excellent image quality when shooting at ISO 50,000 on the Leica Q or 26,400 on the RX1!

As far as speed is concerned, the shutter speeds of the cameras are different as well as the frame rate.  In the case of the Leica Q, it has a range of 1/2,000 to 30 seconds, while the RX1 is slightly faster having a range of 1/4,000 to 30 seconds.  The Leica Q has a high frame rate with the ability to shoot at 10 frames per second, compared to the 5 frames per second on the RX1.  However, neither camera would be suitable for serious sports shooting do to the slow shutter speeds and the lens being used on the camera.

Physically the Leica Q is substantially larger measuring 5.12” x 3.15” x 3.66” when compared to the RX1, which measures 4.5” x 2.6” x 2.8”.  The Leica Q is much heavier as well, weighing in at 22.58 ounces compared to the 15.98 ounces found on the RX1.  While both cameras feel great to handle, the Leica Q has superior ergonomics and the larger size does make a difference in comfort when shooting for extended periods of time.

Pros and Cons

As with all cameras the Leica Q and the Sony RX1 have both strengths and weaknesses and each photographer will need to see how those strengths and weaknesses impact their style of photography.

The Leica Q’s greatest “pro” is the excellent image quality and natural colors, which are just amazing.  The electronic viewfinder is also a very positive feature of the camera as well.  Obviously Leica has been able to leverage their strengths as far as engineering is concerned when producing the Q, which is their best overall digital camera to date.

The biggest weakness or “con” of the Leica Q is the price, which is out of the reach of many photographers.  While an excellent camera, $4,250 for compact camera using a fixed lens is just ridiculous even if it is full frame, has a red Leica badge on the front and has Summilux written on the lens!

The biggest strength or “pro” of the RX1 is the camera’s price point $2,799.99 which while not cheap, is certainly more affordable than the Leica Q.  The menu system is also a strong point, as well as the various scene and picture effects, which are both useful and fun to use.

The biggest weakness of the RX1 is the lack of either an optical or electronic viewfinder, which is a big miss.  Consumers looking to spend $2,799 on a compact camera are going to want a viewfinder and not be forced to holding the camera at arm’s length when composing shots.  Sony realized the miss and introduced a viewfinder on the follow up RX1 II.

Just the Facts, A Side-By-Side Comparison

While most serious photographers look at image quality over technical specifications, many feel that the specifications are equally important.  The Leica Q and the Sony RX1 both have excellent image quality, as well as technical specifications, which are shown in the table below.

Item Leica Q Sony RX1
Year Introduced 2015 2012
Format Full Frame Full Frame
Megapixels 24.0 24.3
Sensor Type CMOS Exmor CMOS
Processor Maestro II BIONZ
Image Format DNG Or JPEG RAW Or JPEG
Sensor Size 36mm x 24mm 35.8mm x 23.9mm
Sensor Cleaner No No
Lens Type Fixed Fixed
Lens Summilux 28mm f1.7 ASPH Zeiss 35mm f2.0 Sonnar T*
Auto-focus Points 49 25
Modes Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, manual Exposure, Memory Recall 1, Memory Recall 2, Panorama, Scene Selection
Scene Modes Sport, Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Snow, Beach Candlelight, Sunset, Digiscoping, Miniature Effect, Panorama, Timelapse Portrait, Sports Action, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Hand-Held Twilight, Night Portrait
Picture Effect Not Published Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterization, Retro Photo, Soft High-Key, Partial Color, High Contrast Mono, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Richtone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, Illustration
View Finder Electronic Optional Accessory
View Finder Coverage 100% Not Applicable
Live View Yes Yes
Frames Per Second 10 5
ISO 100 – 50,000 100 – 25,600
Highest Expandable ISO Not Applicable Not Applicable
Shutter Speed Range 1/2,000 – 30 Seconds 1/4,000 – 30 Seconds
Built In Flash No Yes
Hot Shoe Yes Yes
Card Slots 1 1
Card Type SD, SDHC, SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC, Various Proprietary Memory Sticks
LCD Size 3.0” 3.0”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Fixed Fixed
Video Yes Yes
Video Type Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 At 30, 60 Frames Per Second); Plus Various Formats Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 At 28 Frames Per Second); Plus Various Formats
Video Format MPEG-4 AVCHD
GPS No No
Wireless Yes No
WIFI Yes No
Battery BP-DC12 NP-BX1 Rechargeable Battery Pack
Battery Life Not Published + /- 220 Images
Moisture And Dust Resistant No No
Body Construction Magnesium Alloy And Aluminum Magnesium Alloy
Unique Features Full Frame Compact Camera; Touch Screen Full Frame Compact Camera
Size  5.12” x 3.15” x 3.66” 4.5” x 2.6” x 2.8”
Weight 22.58 Ounces 15.98 Ounces
Manufactured In Germany Japan
Included Accessories Leica Q Digital Camera, Carrying Strap, Lens Hood, Lens cap, Accessory Shore Cover, BP-DC 12 Lithium-Ion Battery, Battery Charger, Power Cable, USB Cable AC-UD11 AC Adaptor, Cleaning Cloth, Instruction manual, Lens cap, Micro USB Cable, Rechargeable Battery, Show Cap, Shoulder Strap
Cost $4,250.00 (For the latest discounts and prices.) $2,799.99 (For the latest discounts and prices.)

*Information from both the Leica and Sony websites, including pricing.

Overall Recommendation

Although the Leica Q and Sony RX1 are both really nice cameras, initially I was very skeptical of the concept of a full frame compact camera and really could not see the point.  I use compact cameras when I do not feel like carrying abound a heavy DSLR camera and a compact camera should be light and small enough to fit into a pocket, which neither the Leica Q or the Sony RX1 can do.  I also found the very high price points of both cameras to be a very problematic, especially in the case of the Leica Q, which has a suggested retail price of $4,250!

That being said, I did eventually grow to appreciate both cameras once I was able to get past the size and price points.  While I liked the RX1’s lower cost, I really do not like cameras without viewfinders, so I reluctantly prefer the Leica Q overall, as a result of the excellent image quality and the presence of the viewfinder.  In my opinion, the Leica Q is a very good choice for a photographer that primarily focuses of street photography, but is not ideal for most overall shooting scenarios due to the limitations on the lens.

It will be interesting to see if the demand for full frame sensors in compact cameras remains strong in the future, especially at high prices points.  While performance is very good, it is going to be a tough sale, especially when consumers can get a full frame DSLR camera like the Canon 6D or the Nikon D610 and several lenses for the same price.  In the meantime, try one out….you may like one after all!

Robert Alexander
 

A camera geek and freelance photographer, Robert (Aka "Rob" or "Bob") spends way too much time examining the finer points of cameras.

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